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How Art Helps Stories Forge A Stronger Emotional Connection

June 20, 2018

A good story creates an emotional bond with readers.

A visual can intensify the bond, but only if it fits. It has to reflect the story, and it has to help tell the story.

Stock photos are generic. They aren’t created for specific stories. That’s why they often fall flat or seem inappropriate. You may have even seen them used elsewhere.

Custom illustration, by contrast, is created for a specific story. It enhances the text because it’s based on the text and tries to add another dimension to the story.

Read on for a good example.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

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I recently illustrated an essay titled, The Medically Misguided Approach To Mistreatment. The author is a anesthesiology resident looking back at her experience as a med student. You can read the entire essay here.

The term mistreatment refers to sexual and non-sexual harassment, prejudice, bigoted remarks and the like. The med school’s affiliated hospital had a mistreatment policy. That’s the subject of the essay.

The author writes that she was determined to achieve on the basis of merit alone, and that she “did not identify with being a woman of color, regardless of my South Asian heritage and femininity.” She begins by saying:blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

In 2013, I entered medical school, fresh out of the incubator of all-girls school education and liberal arts college. Given the bubble I grew up in—“empower a
girl to serve and shape our world” was emblazoned on posters in every single
one of my high school classrooms—it is safe to say that I had some unrealistic notions about the world.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high
middle school girl poodle striking pose in hall globe tennis ball posters saying empower a girl to serve shape world

blank vertical space, 16 pixels highAs a med student, she attends lectures on the hospital’s mistreatment policy. Here she hears the phrase “on the rag” for the first time, and learns it’s a crude, antiquated term for menstruation. At one such session, a classmate shares this story:blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

She was asked to close an incision during an operation, something considered a great honor given that the medical student’s role during the surgical rotation is
not to touch anything.

My classmate relays that she was minimally supervised by a resident, but when
the attending surgeon returned to the operating room, displeased her sutures
could leave a deep scar, he said she “ruined the patient’s life forever.” My classmate did not report the incident, internalizing that the result of her inexperience was somehow her fault. 

blank vertical space, 16 pixels highThe mistreatment lectures ask the students to consider certain hypothetical situations, like this one:blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

A resident is taking too long to complete an operation and the attending surgeon asks her if she’s menstruating, or on the rag, as though that would affect her surgical technique.

We are asked if this constitutes mistreatment. Yes, my group votes unanimously. What was offensive about the scenario? The usage of “on the rag,” my group
seemed to decide. The implication that women are somehow lesser surgeons for
an inherently female trait is lost to the group.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I decided to incorporate both situations– the one real, the other hypothetical– into a single illustration.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high
male surgeon berating female med student for poor stitches during operation asking if having period imply menstruation made her distracted incompetent

The author also writes about a more subtle form of stereotyping:blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

It is 2015. I am on my surgery clerkship and the course director asks each of us
what medical specialty we are thinking about pursuing. I have been warned about this question—it will later be on the list of things attendings cannot ask because of the students’ worry that their answer may influence their grade…

I defer answering, saying that I need to experience more clerkships before I can make a decision. This is known as a bullshit response. The attending tells me this
and then says he will guess which medical specialty is best for me. But I already know he is going to say Pediatrics.

Although the attending has never seen me act nurturing with anyone under the age of fifty (we are at a Veterans’ Affairs hospital), I am female, and therefore I belong with the children.

blank vertical space, 16 pixels highAlas, future pediatricians get no respect:blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

For our mistreatment seminar at the end of medical school, we are split into
groups based on our intended medical specialty. One student voices her concern
that this will decrease a diversity of opinions.

“Ugh, she must be going into peds,” my group mate says derisively.

“What’s wrong with peds?” I ask, knowing that I could have easily been that
student, having already been stereotyped as a future pediatrician.

“Too many feelings,” my group of future anesthesiologists jeers.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

anesthesiologist with tank hostile to med student choosing pediatrics mock for too many feelings overly sensitive

The mistreatment seminars continue, but to little effect. The author concludes by saying:blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

The definition of mistreatment is so broad that we cannot fully grasp what it is. Instead, we are parroting back the answers we have memorized as though we are taking another medical school exam. We do not think about the weight of these mistreatment scenarios, the implications hidden within the words.

There is no increase in reports on mistreatment in 2017, even though it is surely
still happening. Everything has changed, but nothing has changed at all.blank vertical space, 16 pixels highparrots recycling symbol same old discussions leading nowhere at medical mistreatment seminar
blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

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About Mark: I’m an illustrator specializing in humor, branding, social media, and content marketing. I create images that get content seen and shared.

You can view my portfolio, and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Questions? Send me an email.

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blank vertical space, 16 pixels highblank vertical space, 40 pixels high

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Robin King - Artist permalink
    June 25, 2018 11:51 AM

    Powerful, memorable illustrations! No way could stock images do as well. They’d likely water down the message, make it far less accessible. 👏👏👏


    • June 26, 2018 8:53 AM

      Many thanks, RK! The more personal and unique the story, the greater the need for visuals that will align with it.

      Brands have– or should have– a unique story to tell: something that sets them apart. When they use stock images to tell their story, it becomes more generic, less interesting. Custom images help a brand stand out. That’s what makes them a good investment.

      Thanks as ever for your cheery support!! 👍🏆😊

      Liked by 1 person

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